Recently, at our Writing Project meeting where we write something every month, we cloned the Facebook note, “25 Random Things About Me” and wrote “25 Random Things About Me As A Teacher.” Today we chose one of our 25 things to expand upon. I include it here because it is such a part of my teaching this year. All part of the inquiry…”
23. I am tired of looking at which standards my students have not achieved proficiency in. They have hardly achieved proficiency in any of them and it’s not their fault or my fault. We’re all doing our best, and I’m sick of being compared to other teachers, and having my students compared to native English speakers.
Now that is an opening sentence, I must say. Was I edgy when I wrote it? Had I just come from a day like today? Probably. I seem to have quite a few days like today, when no matter what I do, no matter how long I wait for every single student’s attention before I speak and I get it and all eyes are on me and I tell them exactly what to do and even some of the answer and I write it on the board, they still – every single one of them – come up individually and ask what they are supposed to do. But only after they have all either tried to help Brenda stop crying or talked about her crying in a judgemental way which has caused her to cry harder, for an entire period. Finally, after a short breakfast break they manage to actually do the work and find that they really did sort of know how to do it. But now they barely have enough time to finish it.
Today is the third day of working on the language and form of written persuasion. I thought the lessons had been nicely telescoped, each building on the one before it. We had begun by reading about persuasion and writing little summaries. Then I’d given them graphic organizers on which they could map out a persuasive situation of their own. (Issues like the importance of a thirteen year old having a cell phone or a puppy. Or lowering the driving age to thirteen.) We role played a situation before they had to make up their own, and they all seemed to understand it pretty well. Today we read a simple persuasive essay from the back of their Interactive Readers and they are to map it just like they did yesterday. The fact that they have a hard time remembering what the words “support” and “opposition” mean should have been a clue to the day, since I have written the definitions on the board and pointed it out to them every day, not to mention that we’ve been using those terms for the past three days. Besides, who is a more experienced persuader than a thirteen-year-old? Nevertheless, eventually most of this first group manages to finish. Hallelujah!
And then the next class comes in. In this group one boy, Peter, appears to have broken his finger. He is being really pitiful about it, and I send him to the nurse for ice. Except the nurse isn’t here and he goes to the office where the secretary lets him use an ice pack for about thirty seconds and then sends him back to class without the ice pack. His finger is soon close to twice its normal size and turning purple. It clearly needs ice. I send him to his seat and go through the getting their attention and giving even more of the answer this time so we can get started. All starts well, and only about three ask what to do. Soon Peter announces that he can’t do any work because his finger hurts too much. I tell him he can sit down and I’ll write a note for more ice soon, as soon as I can see my way through the bodies that are now lining up around me to ask what they are to do, because they need to hear it individually, not with everyone else. Or they want to show me their work, which they have done exactly backward.
As I try to wade through the confusion, a student comes up and hands me a wadded up piece of paper, announcing that Gerardo had just thrown it at him. Okay. Here we go. I opened it up (why did I do that?) and read what it said. It was profanity laced with gang bragging, thrown by the boy who has poked holes in my classroom walls, brought lighters and (they say) marijuana to school, who is good enough at lying that they can’t seem to do anything but send him back to class. Over and over again. He is a student who needs special help, possibly a classroom for Emotionally Disturbed children, if we could get the necessary meeting lined up. In the meantime he just languishes in all his classes, creating just enough disturbance to keep everyone a little off kilter.
The day continues without abatement, one thing after another. Lots of horsing around, the assistant principal comes in and out with incident report forms about the nasty paper throwing, and again I send Peter to the office with a note imploring them to give him some ice that he can keep. I finally tell the last group of kids that if they don’t get the assignment finished in class today, they will not be allowed to make it up later. Miraculously, several manage to suddenly get it done.
I left school today shaking my head at it all. However in the world will they demonstrate any growth on the state test this year at the rate we are going? Have they always been this dim, or are their brains just clogged by hormones? How did they ever learn to tie their shoes, let alone read or do simple math? Is there a solution? Thinking about it a little more deeply, I really don’t think this has much of anything to do with their being English Learners. I just wish I knew what to do about it.